Legitimacy in a Longitudinal Context
While much work has been done on the development of a multidimensional conceptualization of legitimacy, a very limited amount of research has been done on legitimacy over time. For example, Seligson (2002) links evaluation of one dimension of legitimacy — system support — to levels of voter turnout in Costa Rica. A later study by Booth and Seligson (2009) explored multiple dimensions of legitimacy with empirical rigor but did not track legitimacy over time. In this study, I explore some issues involved with multiple legitimacy dimensions over time in Costa Rica.
I employ the dimensional framework found by Booth and Seligson, but add to their analysis by examining the structure and levels of legitimacy across time. I ask whether the legitimacy dimensions they identified for eight Latin American nations also exist in Costa Rica, and whether Costa Rican legitimacy dimensions persist there over time. Booth and Seligson have subsequent work (Seligson and Booth 2009; Seligson and Booth, Forthcoming) that assumes the structures they found in 2004 are stable (i.e. also exist in 2008), and that changes in legitimacy levels from 2004 to 2008 in Honduras have implications for that country’s political system stability.
Such assumptions warrant careful empirical evaluation as to whether the cognitive structure of legitimacy is indeed stable. What is the empirical evidence of the persistence of legitimacy norms in Latin America? Should legitimacy’s dimensional structure prove to be volatile over time rather than stable, or to be sui generis for a particular time and country, the utility of identified legitimacy dimensions would diminish. The evaluation level of each dimension cannot be compared to that of other time periods if the factors that make up that dimension change over time.
The adaption of a dimensional framework to a longitudinal context would make future research into the causes and consequences of legitimacy possible by allowing researchers to empirically analyze changes in norms over changing circumstances. Scholars could look at the level of legitimacy before an event that theory suggests would cause a change in legitimacy levels, observe whether a change takes place, and then note the consequences of that change as a long term empirical study. Indeed, Seligson and Booth do just this (2009) in a study of changing levels of three legitimacy dimensions in Honduras from 2004 to 2008.
In order to measure legitimacy over time under this theory, it must be established that the dimensions found by Booth and Seligson are useful in a longitudinal context. By choosing a relatively stable period of time for this study, I am able to better understand the dimensional structure of legitimacy over time, but this limits the exploration of whether the evaluation level of each individual dimension of legitimacy varies appropriately with the social and political circumstances of Costa Rica during this time period. Limited analysis of this issue is possible in the context of this study; however, I can observe the lack of change in the evaluation levels as a product of the relative stability in the social and political context of Costa Rica during this time period. This leads to my first hypothesis:
In order for there to be empirical comparability between different periods of time, the same dimensional structure would need to remain relatively constant over time, and the same dimensions should appear in both surveys. This is my second hypothesis:
H2: The legitimacy dimensions observed in the 2004 survey data will persist in the 2008 survey data.
Costa Rica is one of the most politically stable and economically developed countries in Central America. Based on 2003 data, the country scored the highest on the Human Development Index, had the second highest GDP per capita, and the highest percent change between 1990 and 2003. The country also scored highest among Central American countries on the Vanhanen Mean Democracy score, and had the highest score of Central American countries on the World Bank Effectiveness Index. Due to this stability, I expect that evaluation levels for each dimension will not show very much change, remaining relatively constant due to relatively stable political and economic circumstances in the country. Because Costa Rica has been an established democracy for over fifty years and has well developed political institutions, I expect the dimensional structure of legitimacy to also remain stable in Costa Rica.